Monday, April 30, 2007

Yoga Poses - Downward Facing Dog



A common question regarding Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) is how do I maintain straight legs, a straight back, and the sit bones lifted all at the same time? What is the priority, a straight back or straight legs?
In the pictures, the gal to the left is rounding her back, lifting her head, and bending her elbows. All 3 of theses alignments are (in general) not healthy and can cause strain to the body. Notice the gal to the right. The spine is long and maintaining a natural low back curve. There is a definite extension from the hands to the sit bones. Her whole body is getting a great stretch.
Now the question is, how do you get there if your body won't cooperate?
First, take care of the back by having a long and "straight" spine be the highest priority. This might mean bending the knees or doing a modified down dog.
To maintain the natural lumbar (low back) curve and have straight legs requires flexibility in the hamstrings (backs of the legs). Over time it will come (barring some anatomical limitation). The priority is keeping the lumbar curve in order to lengthen the vertebrae and begin to release tension in the hamstrings. I'd recommend keeping the feet almost as wide as the mat (this is easier for the back to find it's natural curves) and bend the knees slightly. Focus on reaching the sit bones up towards the sky, as if there is a large hook on your pubic bone lifting it back and up :-) (Now, there's an image for you!) The inner thighs stay wide and lift skyward.
As flexibility grows, it's possible to lift the sit bones too high. When this happens the back will actually bow down towards the Earth, and/or you might feel pinching at the tops of the thighs near the pelvic bowl. This means it's time to, also, focus on scooping the tailbone towards the heels. A result of this action is a toning in the low belly and a lift from the pelvic floor toward the heart center. This action will bring length to the spine, while maintaining the lift of the sit bones.
Another method of working with down dog is to start with modified versions. (Note, just about ALL Yoga poses can be modified!!) This method opens the back body (hamstrings and low back) in a gentle and controlled fashion.
Start standing about 3-4 feet from a wall, facing it. Place hands on the wall (remember to lift the carpal tunnel--at the center of the wrist--away from the wall by rooting through the base of the index finger and thumb). Place your feet a comfortable distance apart. Maintain the natural curves in the spine and straight legs. If this is not possible, then move closer to the wall and lift the hands high enough that the elbows can straighten. If you can feel a stretch here, then do this 2 or 3 times a day for 1-3 minutes--great time to practice full breathing. You can make it a short meditation time :-) If you don't feel anything, then step a little further away from the wall and move the hands lower. Once you can do this and your torso is parallel to the ground (legs straight, spine holding natural curves, energy moving into the index finger and thumb base while lifting the base of the wrist away from the wall), then move the hands to a table/sofa/chair. Eventually, you'll be able to move the hands onto blocks and finally the floor.
If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to post them.
Have fun practicing!
Kris

Friday, April 27, 2007

Benefits of Yoga - Is your yoga practice servicing you?





Could you use more calm and joy in your life? Which fellow above would you like to feel like? If it's the one on the left, Yoga won't help. However, if it's the smiling guy, then Yoga has a place for you. But as with anything in life, overdoing it can wreck havoc!

Several weeks ago, I attended a Yoga Workshop in Chicago. We worked with the bandhas (energetic locks in the body) which has the ability to increase the prana (energy) that you have. It can be a heating and healing experience. But overdo it, and you mess with your nervous system. One of the women there, had trouble sleeping for over 6 weeks due to using Maha Mudra, a powerful use of the 3 main bandhas every day -- during those same 6 weeks! Perhaps, she didn't realize the connection between her increased prana and the insomnia--in which case she shouldn't have been practicing the technique at all.

My advise? Look at your life. What's working? What's not? Are you loving and patient? Are you stressed and frazzled? Taylor your practice to match what your needs are. If you are lethargic and tired a lot, then a more active and stimulating practice is in order. Don't go overboard and end up wired. Within a week or so, you will most likely find a balanced practice that works for you. Yoga asanas (postures) and pranayama (extending life force with breath) that are active and challenging will bring more energy to you body. On the other hand, if you are constantly on the go and your body and mind are crying out for rest, then slow moving asanas and cooling pranayama, such as Sitali or Sitkari, are in order.

So, look at your practice. How do you feel before you begin? How do you feel afterwards? Make sure that what you do on the mat aids you in your life.

Remember Yoga has the ability to transform your life and provide greater health and happiness. Use it wisely.

Namaste,

Kris

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Global Warming - What does it have to do with Yoga?



My brother-in-law seems to think Global Warming is a hoax. I got this info second hand, so you know how that goes. Perhaps, what he meant was that "we" are not the cause of it. Admittedly, I have not spent weeks researching the topic, but have poked around and every study I could find, pointed to the human race. Regardless of what you personally think about the cause, it's pretty hard to not take at least some of the responsibility. Unless you're Amish and have no electricity or car.

The 8 limbs of Yoga, found in the Yoga Sutras, talk about satha or truthfulness. When you honestly look at the greenhouse effect, the fact that we all are part of it becomes pretty obvious. (Again, the Amish and some "non-civilized" tribes are free of this.) The first yama in the 8 limbs is ahimsa or non-violence. Are we, as a race, treating the world with compassion or are we causing harm? Asteya, non-stealing, questions if we are taking from the other creatures, such as the polar bears, sharing this planet with us. The fifth yama is aparigraha, or to be non-greedy. Do we take more than we need?

All sounds pretty grim? Right? Here's the positive: There is one more yama, brahmacharya, which means to move toward truth. How can we move toward truth?

By fostering an attitude of hope and belief in our ability to turn things around!

How do we do that? With a positive attitude, which brings on positive actions!

Attitude, according to the Anusara tradition, is a primary part of our Yoga practice. I would say, attitude is a primary part of our life, no matter what.

"Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference." - Winston Churchill

Having trouble getting a positive outlook and believing that the human race can change it's ways? Check out these links to be inspired:

http://www.climatesolutions.com/
http://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/content/view/1967/31/
http://environment.about.com/od/globalwarming/tp/globalwarmtips.htm
http://www.stopglobalwarming.org/sgw_read.asp?id=257334252007

A positive attitude brings on great new ideas that can make a difference,
Kris
www.TotalHealthYoga.com

Monday, April 23, 2007

Yoga at Home


Recently, a student emailed the following question:

"At home I don't seem to have the discipline yet to be able to do a session like the ones that you facilitate. Is there a book or author that you could recommend that might be of some help in remembering what some of the progressions that you teach are?"

This is a common question. Currently, I am in the process of writing a book (of some sort) on this very subject--creating a successful home practice. In the meantime, here is a list of sources that have helped others in the past:


OM at Home by Cyndi Lee




A wonderful way to really learn Yoga (and continue to learn) is to attend classes and use supplemental resources (like the ones listed above) to understand alignment and action, as well as learn new asanas (postures). Once you have learned a number of asanas and feel comfortable with Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation), I think it is wisest to branch away from someone else's sequence and create your own. This is when the practice becomes more "alive" and filled with meaning both physically and mentally. I'll share when my book on this subject is ready for release.

Namaste, My heart to your heart,

Friday, April 20, 2007

Health - Cancer



Cancer seems to affect just about everyone's life is some way. Either having it or having a close friend or family member with it. There are many CAM (Complementary and Alternative Medicine) techniques available for treatment along side the conventional methods (not necessarily instead of!). Yoga is one of them.
The National Cancer Institute provides information on various CAM treatment for Cancer. Of the 6 mind-body therapies listed, meditation and yoga are 2 of them. Also, check out Reuters for more info.
To your health!
Kris

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Prana


Interesting article called Prana Energy (found by clicking on this link). The author is not shown. So, personally, I'd take it with a large grain of salt. However, I have been studying Yoga for quite some time now (5-10 year now, depending on what you define as "studying"), and there are some good points raised in this article.

The author, talks about Citta and its relationship to Prana. Citta is frequently translated as the mind consciousness. Prana is basically energy or life force. These are the quick-and-dirty definitions, but if you follow the links you'll see that the translation can become much deeper and more complex. (No wonder there are so many translations of the Bible!) Regardless, there is definitely a tie between Citta (mind) and Prana (energy). There is an old Chinese saying, "The Yi leads the Chi." That is, the mind, your thoughts, lead the energy, your blood/energy/life force.

The article goes on to say that when the prana or breath is still, the mind or citta is still. This is where breath retention comes into play. Be very careful with breath retention, it is best to consult a teacher prior to the practice and have someone to guide you with questions. When you are ready for comfortable breath retention, it can be quite a powerful practice, as it slow the thoughts running through the mind.

Later in the article, the author comments on how your relationships with others lets you know how well your practice is going. This is key. If your practice is not providing deeper more compassionate relationships, then look to shift or adjust your practice. Practice of hatha or pranayama and meditation is a wondrous time to cultivate compassion for the self and others.

Compassionately Yours,
Kris http://www.totalhealthyoga.com/

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Secret Review


How does The Secret pertain to Yoga? For those that haven't seen this DVD, it's about the Law of Attraction which states that "what you put out, you get back." Ancient idea in new packaging. A bit too much hype for my personal taste, but kudos to the creator, Rhonda Byrne, for finding a way to get this "philosophy" out to so many.
John Friend of Anusara Yoga talks about attitude being the most important aspect of our practice. The other main aspects being alignment and action. The Secret is basically saying the same thing, and much more. If our attitude is negative, our results are negative. The flip side, is that with a positive attitude you gain positive results. This is not a new idea. Even Jesus and Buddha talked about this. "The kingdom of God is within you." "All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become."
A big part of a Hatha Yoga practice is being intimately aware of yourself. Not just your body, but your mind and thoughts. You can use the knowledge found in The Secret (and countless other books or on Oprah, for that matter :-)) along with the awareness found in a Yoga practice to bring more joy and fulfillment to every day.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Book Reviews - Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness by Erich Schiffmann







Now here's a great book! It's been around since 1996 and still I'd say it's one of the best Yoga Posture books. Erich, the author and very funny guy in person :-), starts with an easy to read explanation of what Yoga is about. When I first read this book many years ago, I remember thinking--"Oh, this is why so many folks love Yoga." It really opened my eyes to a deeper and more meaningful Yoga.

Aside from showing a more meaningful Yoga than "just the postures", he also tackles the postures in great detail. Even his explanation of savasana (the final relaxation pose) is filled with detail that brings more depth and understanding to this important pose.



You can order this book through www.Amazon.com at http://www.amazon.com/Yoga-Spirit-Practice-Moving-Stillness/dp/0671534807/ref=pd_bbs_sr_2/104-6043848-4529538?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1176686140&sr=8-2 or you can order one through me directly.

Happy Reading!
Kris
www.TotalHealthYoga.com

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Friday, April 13, 2007

Yoga Poses - Astavakrasana


Welcome to my first Blog! Why open with a picture of myself? I swear it's not vanity! It just seemed like a nice idea to put a face to the name for those of you reading this that do not know me--yet. In order to get a photo in my bio, I have to link to somewhere--here seemed as good a place as any.

This asana or yoga pose is called Astavakrasana which translates to the 8-Angle Pose. Check out http://www.yogajournal.com/practice/171_1.cfm for a detailed article regarding this posture.

If you come close, but have questions about this posture or just want to share your experience, please leave a comment.

Happy Yoga Practice :-)

Kris
www.TotalHealthYoga.com